Our journey ended at Free Wheel North in Glasgow Green (although in many ways, this was only the beginning); the organisation creating a fairer, healthier society by enabling people of all ages and abilities to cycle as part of their everyday life. Norman Armstrong is the inspirational driving force behind this project.
Free Wheel North is at the cutting edge of climate justice. On one level we are a cycling organisation, empowering people of all abilities to enjoy pedal power. Our flagship project is the Glasgow Green Cycling Centre, where we have hundreds of bikes, mostly of the kind rarely seen on UK streets, such as hand cranks, wheel chair bikes and bikes with many seats. These enable everyone to cycle, ranging from toddlers with dyspraxia to older people with dementia to quadriplegics. We do inclusion like no one else.
But on a deeper level, Free Wheel North is an instrument of social change, linking environmental issues to civil rights and challenging the inertia of a government that is all too invested in the profits of multinationals.
It was wonderful to welcome so many cyclists to our Centre on the 31st of October for Ride the Change. Food, music, cycling and the company of other humans is the meaning of public space. All too rarely do we get to enjoy that space; it has been handed to the automotive industry, relegating people to the margins, not to mention all other forms of life.
COP26 is a great opportunity not only to send a message to world leaders, but to demonstrate with real physical action what the world we demand looks like. On the 6th of November we joined the largest rally that has ever happened in Glasgow. Members of the FWN team pedalled the conference bike; a bike with seven sets of pedals. We joined campaigners Go Bike and Pedal on COP26 with their “this machine fights climate change” banners. The rain and the wind did not deter us, nor the 100,000 protestors who cycled or marched the 3 miles from Kelvingrove to Glasgow Green.
'Our philosophy is Just do It.. If we wait for politicians, quangos and consultants to do it, it will be too late.'
It is not noticed enough that civil rights is related to civic space. It is not for nothing that Martin Luther King led thousands of marchers from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 along 54 miles of the Jefferson Davis Highway. There were objections then, as there are now, that protest disrupts traffic. But this is the wrong way round. It is not civil rights that disrupt traffic, it is that traffic disrupts civil rights; the right to assemble, the right to breathe and the right to play. Cars are not our masters.
A few days after Ride the Change, I was visited by Lee Craigie, Scotland’s Active Nation Commissioner. She asked for a ride on the conference bike. As we rode around the Glasgow Green Cycling Centre, I told her about my plan to ride this bike on a major fundraiser, perhaps Glasgow to Edinburgh, even Land’s End to John O Groats. Lee was up for joining us.
This would be another Ride the Change. And if we raise enough money, we can replicate our work throughout Scotland, following our philosophy of Just do It. If we wait for politicians, quangos and consultants to do it, it will be too late.